SYCAMORE – Faced with a backlog of needed county road projects, DeKalb County Board members could ask the state for permisson to levy a new tax on gasoline.
At their meeting Wednesday, County Board members will consider a resolution that would seek the state’s permission to levy a tax of up to 4 cents a gallon on fuel.
If the resolution is approved, county officials could request local state representatives’ help in adding DeKalb County to a section of the Illinois County Code that already allows DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties to levy a motor fuel tax. It requires the money be used for building, maintaining and improving public highways.
The new tax would generate an additional $1.8 million in annual revenue at time when roadway projects are more expensive than ever, County Engineer Nathan Schwartz said.
“I have about $140 million worth of projects,” Schwartz said, referring to a backlog of road work the tax could help finance.
The contemplated addition of a county gasoline tax comes as state and federal lawmakers also are considering increasing fuel taxes to fund road and other infrastructure improvements. State and federal motor fuel taxes have not increased since the 1990s, and vehicles have become more fuel efficient over time, leaving governments short of funds to maintain transportation networks.
In Springfield, House Democrats have floated a plan to increase Illinois’ motor fuel tax by 25 cents a gallon as a means of funding a $2.4 billion statewide capital bill. Such an increase would raise the state’s surcharge on a gallon of gas from 19 to 44 cents.
In Washington, Democratic legislative leaders and the Trump administration have reached a general agreement on a $2 trillion national capital spending bill, which could include an increase in the federal government’s 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax.
Should the county board approve the resolution, officials will reach out to state legislators and ask them to change the state county code, County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski said. When drivers could expect to see a tax increase would depend on when and if the legislation was approved.
It might also depend on whether various other increases in the gas tax are enacted, Pietrowski said.
“There’s no timetable for anything,” Pietrowski said. “It all depends on what the state of Illinois decides to do with different taxes. So, for instance, if they try to pursue this gasoline tax, maybe that’s something that as a board we go, ‘OK, let’s put on the brakes.’ ”
Gasoline also is taxed by some local cities in addition to state and federal governments.
The city of DeKalb imposes a 5.5-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline, so drivers who fuel up there pay a combined 42.9 cents a gallon in local, state and federal motor fuel taxes. A DeKalb driver who travels 15,000 miles a year with a fuel efficiency of 20 miles a gallon can expect to pay about $320 a year in fuel taxes, not including state sales and environmental taxes.
In Sycamore, which has a 2 cent tax, the total tax per gallon is 39.4 cents, and the same driver can expect to pay a little less than $300 a year. An added 4-cent county fuel tax would add about $30 a year to annual fuel costs.
Schwartz said the cost to taxpayers would supplement flatlining revenue for roadway projects
“You can imagine what the costs of construction have increased over those 29 years, and not have any increase in revenue,” Scwartz said.
Maintenance costs alone have nearly doubled in the past 25 years, according to the county’s 2018 Annual Highway report. Spreading gravel has increased from $6.25 per ton to $12 per ton, and asphalt costs have increased from $33 per ton to $65 per ton, according to the report.
The county’s largest single project, a plan to upgrade county highways to a weight limit of 80,000 pounds, will cost $113 million, Schwartz said. That is the same weight limit as the federal interstate highway system.
DeKalb County was expected to receive $1.3 million as its share of state motor fuel tax revenue in 2018, with another $1 million expected from federal motor fuel tax funds, records show.
However, state and federal fuel taxes are not all given out through regular allocations. Instead, some of the money is disbursed as needed for specific projects that don’t always match the highway department’s goals, Schwartz said.
“A couple million here and there is nice, but if it’s not coming every year, it doesn’t make that big of a dent in the overall backlog of projects,” Schwartz said.